Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all things.
Introduction and Excerpt from "A Milk-White Sail"
This speaker in Paramahansa Yogananda's "A Milk-White Sail" from Songs of the Soul engages the metaphor of sailing a small vessel through a turbulent ocean storm. In only six lines, the speaker creates a little drama featuring the individual soul discovering that it can maneuver its vessel to a safe location on the shore where it can find safety from the turbulence of storms out in the vast ocean. The speaker claims that despite the danger of such storms, he can quickly overcome them, and he can escape the ravages of such turbulence with his ability to swiftly flee those rough gales.
Excerpt from "A Milk-White Sail"
A milk-white, tiny sail
Skims fast across my sea; I wail,
The threatening storms to see. . . .
(Please note: The poem in its entirety may be found in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings.)
Consisting of only six lines, this marvelously descriptive verse features a speaker who is finding himself approaching a difficulty, when suddenly he discovers he can move swiftly past the problem.
First Movement: Storms Threaten the Bark of Life
The speaker creates his little drama by metaphorically likening his life to sailing aboard a "bark" with a "milk-white, tiny sail." As any longtime sailor would have observed from time to time, a storm will kick up threatening the vessel in which he rides.
Life's trials and tribulations may at times appear to be similar to turbulent storms with dark clouds, heavy rains, and damaging gusts of winds. When such a turbulent event comes into one's life, one cannot know the outcome.
Weather storms have swooped by leaving untold amounts of damage, just as life's events such as illness, accidents, and death of loved ones have from time to time overtaken the individual with pain, sorrow, and sometime loss of hope for the future.
Second Movement: Acting and Reacting to Danger
Because the individual aboard this metaphorical "bark" knows that untold damage may be swooping into this life, he cries out in pain, that is, he "wail[s]" upon becoming aware of the approaching onslaught of "threatening storms."
Each human mind comes equipped with the ability to act and react to any eventuality, but unless that mind is divinely developed, it cannot know the precise damage he might have to endure.
Thus, even before the individual is able to take any assessment of the devastation, he will begin to suffer even the slightest hint that the pain may be on its way.
Each human being of a certain age and experience can identify with the notion that an individual will react with sorrow to those possible oncoming devastations.
But this speaker, while living on the Earth plane with its abundance of uncertainty, has gathered his abundant faith and thereby understands something that each human being seeks to know.
Third Movement: Racing from Every Storm
Thus, the speaker can by strong faith and utter divine assurance claim that his boat of life will race out of every storm and find its safety on the shore of Divine Love and Security.
This speaker can see with soul clarity that his life is sailing in divine waters and his little bark has the facility and the ability to take him to safety from any danger he may encounter.
Fourth Movement: The Shore of Safety
The speaker capitalizes the location known is "the Shore" because this shore is metaphorically serving as the Ultimate Goal. Not only is the speaker safe from the ocean's literal storms, he is safe in the arms of his Divine Beloved or God.
The Ultimate Reality swoops down its blessed arms to engulf the speaker, who has arrived at the ultimate goal, who has united his soul with the Over-Soul, who has gained self-realization thereby achieving the ability to know all, see all, and be all.
This divine assurance remains the safety of the "Shore" where the little soul escapes the barrage of trials and tribulations that threaten his happiness and very existence.
Once the speaker has arrived at this long-desire Shore, the "roar" of the 'tempest[ ]" is "angry" no longer. The calmness of a bright, summer day will keep the blessed soul "safe" from all harm, and afford that soul the bliss he has long sought.
This speaker demonstrates that he has found the safety of that Shore, and he intimates that his fellows may do the same with love, faith, and sincere effort in rowing that boat of life to the safety of shore of all-quenching Bliss.
Life Sketch of Paramahansa Yogananda
Life Sketch of Paramahansa Yogananda
The great guru/poet Paramahansa Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India. His name at birth was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. Always a spiritually advanced child, at age 17, he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, under whose guidance he flourished and became the spiritual giant and sacred engine that leads souls back to their eternal abode in the arms of the Divine Creator.
Paramahansa Yogananda came to the United States in 1920 to speak in Boston at the International Congress of Religious Liberals. His speech was so well received that he quickly gathered a following. By 1925, his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), was well established with the purpose of disseminating and maintaining the purity of his teachings of yoga. He has come to be known as the “Father of Yoga in the West.”
The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Paramahansa Yogananda’s biography on the Self-Realization Fellowship Web site:
In the hundred years since the birth of Paramahansa Yogananda, this beloved world teacher has come to be recognized as one of the greatest emissaries to the West of India’s ancient wisdom. His life and teachings continue to be a source of light and inspiration to people of all races, cultures and creeds.
Paramahansa Yogananda's in-depth work, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a spiritual classic worldwide. Many devotees have been drawn to the teachings of this yogi through that autobiography, and many of their stories about how they came to find that work include some of the most inspiring "miracles" of modern American culture.
Such world-renowned figures as Dennis Weaver, Steve Jobs, George Harrison, and Elvis Presley were influenced by the Autobiography of a Yogi and the teachings of the great guru. Weaver even became a lay minister and spoke often at many of the SRF temples in California.
In addition to the autobiography, the great guru has published many collections of his talks, in both written and oral forms. His audio collector's series of ten of his informal talks includes the following titles:
1. Beholding the One in All
2. Awake in the Cosmic Dream
3. Be a Smile Millionaire
4. The Great Light of God
5. To Make Heaven on Earth
6. One Life Versus Reincarnation
7. Removing All Sorrow and Suffering
8. In the Glory of the Spirit
9. Follow the Path of Christ, Krishna, and the Masters
10. Self-Realization: The Inner and the Outer Path
These inspirational talks reveal much information about the great guru that appeals to his devoted followers. Just listening to a God-realized voice offers an uplifting spiritual experience.
For my commentaries on the poems of the great guru, I rely on his marvelous collection titled, Songs of the Soul, the version published in 1983 with its most current printing 2014. Two additional collections of his poems are extant, Whispers From Eternity and Metaphysical Meditations.
Because the "poems" of this great guru function on levels that ordinary poems do not, they are often used in devotional services held by groups of devotees of the SRF teachings throughout the world in the Readings Services as well as their Special Commemorative Services.
Paramahansa Yogananda's poems are more akin to prayers than to the poetry of ordinary poets, whose subject matter often dramatizes only human emotion in its relationship with creation and other human beings, instead of with the Creator; the great guru's poems always invoke the Creator's presence whether directly or indirectly.
The great guru's organization, SRF, also continues to publish collections of his works. Many of his talks have appeared in the series of essays that include Man's Eternal Quest, The Divine Romance, and Journey to Self-realization.
The guru has also bestowed on the literary world three important translations of extant perennial works that have been grossly misunderstood in some cases for centuries. His new translations along with his explanatory commentaries are correcting that misunderstanding.
In Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — A Spiritual Interpretation, he shows how that poet's God-realized effusions put on display a man in love with his Creator and not the wine sopped Epicurean that has been misapplied to the work.
In the guru's in-depth translation and commentaries on the ancient Bhagavad Gita, titled God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita — A New Translation and Commentary, the great spiritual leader offers not only the poetic translation of the work but also the relevance for humankind of the psychological and spiritual instruction offered in the ancient poem.
Most importantly for Western culture, Paramahansa Yogananda has offered a full explanation of the phenomenon known as the "Second Coming." Titled The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You — A revelatory commentary on the original teachings of Jesus, the work explains the true meaning of many of Jesus' words long misunderstood and mischaracterized, such as "The Kingdom of God is within you" and "I and my Father are one."
Of all the publications offered by SRF and the great guru, it is the Lessons that remain most vital. One could dispense with all of the other books, audio tapes, poetry, and other commentaries if one possesses those lessons.
The Lessons begin by offering physical exercises that prepare the physical encasement to sit quietly and still while performing the more advanced exercises that lead to Kriya Yoga practice.
The Lessons contains six steps that can be completed in three years, but each student is free to progress at his/her own pace. The Lessons include instruction in the following techniques: 1. Energization Exercises. 2. Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration, and 3. Aum Technique of Meditation.
After completing the first two steps, the devotee may apply for the Kriya Yoga technique.
Kriya Yoga Initiations
The Kriya Yoga technique features four initiations for a total of twenty lessons. The First Initiation, featuring lessons K1-9, includes the technique of Kriya proper, on which all of the other initiations are based. The Second Initiation contains four lessons, K10-14, and the Third and Fourth include the remaining lessons K15-20.
All of the Lessons, including the Kriya Yoga Initiations, include many explanations based of science, as well as on the life experience of Paramahansa Yogananda. These marvelous works are presented in such way to hold the student-devotees' interest with little stories, poems, affirmations, and prayers that enhance the purpose of each lesson.
In addition to all of the works mentioned above, Paramahansa Yogananda has published many others, including his Cosmic Chants, which offers musical notations as well as the lyric for each chant.
An annotated list of the works of the great guru is offered on the Self-Realization Fellowship Web site under the title, "The Complete Works of Paramahansa Yogananda."
Brief Publishing History of Songs of the Soul
The first published version of Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul appeared in 1923. During the 1920s and 1930s, the great spiritual leader revised many of the poems. The final revisions of the poems authorized by the great guru appear in the 1983 printing of the text, which along with the revisions restored many lines that had been omitted from the original version.
I use the 1983 printing for my commentaries. The current printing year is 2014. No further revisions or additions have been made since the 1983 printing. The 1923 versions of the many of the poems may be read at Full Text of Songs of the Soul.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes